Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dr. Jill Tarter

Last night, deciding to engage in some self destructive behavior while sitting at home alone, I chose to watch a program about USO's. (USO's?=UFO's that come out of the ocean) I had never heard of unidentified submerged objects before, which is shocking seeing as I literally have watched/read dozens of shows and articles about extraterrestrials. Aliens are one of my most irrational fears. When I am really afraid of something, I need to know as much about it as possible. Like when I looked up alaskanamphibians.org before I went to Alaska. Good thing I did, otherwise I wouldn't have been sufficiently terrified about possible frog/toad sightings while I was hiking and enjoying my trip. (I have a crippling, tragic fear of amphibians that hop.)

It would probably be fair to say that on some fucked up level of my internal being, I take comfort in fear. And it would also be fair to say that I use irrational terror to keep me from fearing actual dangers. I've never worried about walking alone in the city at night, but I will scan an area of grass for about 20 minutes before choosing to sit in it (toad scanning). Same goes for aliens. I will stare at a "UFO" FOREVER until I know for sure it’s an airplane but I'll dart out in front of oncoming traffic without thinking twice in order to get into some creepy cab.

I have tried to figure out why I'm afraid of such non-scary things. I mean I guess frogs are a harder fear for others to relate to.   I think my main issue with them is the hopping.
It grosses me out. And their faces. ISH. I'm getting freaked out just thinking about it. Aliens, though, probably just fall into the category of fearing the unknown. I mean I couldn't sleep for months after watching "ET", and in college, "Signs", the terrible movie that it was sent me into frozen fear in my lofted bed unable to sleep until my roommate Kersta came home to rescue me. An incident she rarely lets me forget. All of this encouraging my awe when I came across Jill Tarter. I was instantly impressed by her bravery and kick-ass-ness.

Tarter, the director of the SETI Institute, is a top astronomer who is leading the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Now, yes. The case can be made against this study by easily saying that it is unnecessary. However, people thought Columbus would fall off the edge of the planet when he left to discover the new world. She is a modern day explorer. And incredibly intelligent. It takes a lot of courage to commit yourself to a lifetime of study in what some consider to be the domain of the Sci-Fi channel. She is a pioneer not only for her gender, but for the entire human race.
SETI Satelites that scan the universe for radio signals.

She has won numerous awards and honors for her scientific research. While her main focus is on the discovery alien technologies, as the director of SETI, she has organized a lot of outreach promoting the study of science and math in American classrooms. 

When I was a kid, I was super, super into outer space. I even wanted to be the first woman on the moon when I was in 6th grade. Unfortunately, I never really took to the study of math and science. I still blame this on my third grade teacher, Ms. G, for keeping me after school every day to do multiplication tests and forever shaming me and my mathematical abilities. Once I realized that math saved the Apollo 13 mission, I knew my moon dream days were numbered.

One of the top reasons girls in elementary and middle school show little interest in math and science is due to lack of confidence in these fields of study. Encouragement and outside influences are mostly geared towards boys. If you think about famous female astronauts the first images that come to mind are the Challenger explosion or, more recently, adult diapers and crazy jealousy. Jill is so significant in changing the perception of women in science not only because she works in aerospace, but because she is the leading researcher in a field that literally is going where no one has gone before. Someday, if she succeeds in discovering alien life, we could rename our capital the District of Tarter. I mean you never know. Her accomplishments command respect regardless of gender.

On a personal level, watching her interview on CBS Sunday Morning, calmed a lot of my fears about aliens. Only for the duration of her spot, but still, she’s a better source of information than, let's say, Steven Hawking, who recently fueled my alien phobia. She makes me think that it would be cool to be alive when we figure out if there is other life out there in the universe. I'm sure I would still be terrified, maybe rationally so by that point. But, none the less proud that a woman will be writing history in a monumental way.

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